An illustration of two bubbles, representing task automation.
Task Automation 101: The What and How of Automating Work 
An illustration of two bubbles, representing task automation.

Task Automation 101: The What and How of Automating Work 

How often do you run out of time trying to complete all the tasks on your to-do list? It’s common to hear phrases around the office like “time is money” and “work smarter, not harder,” but embracing those aphorisms can be difficult when you’re burnt out and drowning in work.

This is why task automation is essential. Instead of repeating the same mundane things over and over, turning your brain to mush, it’s time to take back control of your precious work hours and let automatic tools do the boring tasks for you.

In this article we’ll cover the basics of task automation: what it is, what you should (and shouldn’t) automate, how to choose the right task automation software, and provide a simple step-by-step guide on how to set yourself, and your team, up for success.

What is task automation? 

If you’re not utilizing any task automation tools yet, this might all seem a bit overwhelming. That’s ok – we promise it isn’t. In fact, you’re probably already automating things in your personal life without realizing it.

That Netflix subscription that auto-renews every month? That’s an automated task. Any subscription that’s set up with your payment information and automatically renews would serve as an example here.

It’s not a trick question; task automation is exactly what it sounds like: using software or tools to automatically complete tasks for you.

Some instances are more detailed and complicated than others, but they all have the same end goal: to save you time and resources, and ultimately improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your workflows. 

How to determine which tasks you should automate

By now you might be thinking, “what can the robot overlords do for me?” There’s a lot that task automation software and AI tools can do to free up your time, but it’s important to pick and choose wisely. Be strategic in what you automate, and you’ll thank yourself later.

The types of tasks you choose to set up for automation will vary depending on the specific work you do. Let’s look at some common tasks and break them down by internal departments. 

Task automation examples for marketing teams

  • Schedule social media posts across multiple platforms.
  • Schedule email marketing campaigns.
  • Easily pull metrics and run reports on website traffic.

Task automation examples for sales teams

  • Send follow-up emails to leads.
  • Schedule sales meetings with clients.
  • Pull reports from CRMs.

Task automation examples for project managers

A screenshot of an automation rule in Asana.

Task automation examples for developers 

  • Review and test new or existing code.
  • Monitor data.
  • Organize and assign support tickets. 

Task automation examples for HR

  • Process payroll and employee benefits.
  • Approve or deny time off requests.
  • Schedule recurring meetings with employees.

There are tons of options when it comes to what you can automate, but you need to identify what you should automate based on your immediate needs and overall goals and objectives. 

6 questions to ask to determine which tasks to automate

The main objective of task automation is to stop doing repetitive tasks to free up more of your time, so start by identifying those. When determining what to automate, ask yourself the following questions: 

  1. What are my most common recurring tasks? These can be tasks you complete daily, weekly, or monthly. Anything that follows a set schedule can likely be automated. Tasks that happen sporadically won’t fit nicely into automation tools.
  2. How much time would I save if I didn’t have to complete this task? If you’re going to save hours every week, it’s worth the investment to automate your task.
  3. Does this task require critical thinking? If it’s a simple action, it can likely be automated. However, if it requires more human-specific brainpower, you should keep it on your personal to-do list.
  4. If this task is automated, can it be integrated with other tools we use? If you’re tracking tasks on Kanban boards or need to update customer support tickets, check if your existing software can integrate with whatever task automation tools you’re considering for use.
  5. Does this task require a single person to be completed, or an entire team? If your task requires teamwork or a lot of brainstorm power, it shouldn’t be automated. Remember, task automation software can’t think critically or brainstorm, so don’t ask it to. If the task is something an individual person would typically be responsible for, it can probably be automated.
  6. Does this task require emotional intelligence? Again, if your task requires thinking like a human, it shouldn’t be automated. For example, responding to customer support tickets or dealing with peer reviews should be completed by an actual human. Software tools don’t emote like we do, so they can’t complete tasks that require any sort of emotion.

Asking these qualifying questions will help you determine what tasks should, or shouldn’t, be considered for task automation. To narrow down your scope even more, you can implement different tools and exercises to focus on your priorities.

Using the Eisenhower Matrix

When determining which tasks you should automate, you can implement the Eisenhower Matrix to help prioritize your work. The questions above will help you identify the types of tasks that have the potential to be automated, but you’ll still need to narrow things down to highlight your priorities.

The Eisenhower Matrix is a tool often used for task management. It helps people determine which tasks on their lists are the most urgent so they can focus on priorities and ensure their workflow is smooth and efficient.

When using this tool, you’ll plot tasks into four separate boxes based on urgency and importance. The boxes are labeled as “Do,” “Schedule,” “Delegate,” and “Delete.” It looks like this:

An illustration of the Eisenhower Time Matrix
  • Do: These items are time-sensitive and important. They should be done immediately and are not candidates for task automation.
  • Decide: These tasks might be important for long-term success, but they don’t have set deadlines. They might be candidates for automation, but you can worry about analyzing them later.
  • Delegate: These items need to be completed but you don’t have to be the one who does them. These tasks are perfect for automation tools – we highly recommend you move these items over to be automated as soon as possible.
  • Delete: These tasks are not urgent or incredibly important. Take some time to figure out if they truly need to be done. If so, they can probably be automated, but truthfully, you can delete them off your to-do list and focus on what really matters.

Types of tasks that shouldn’t be automated

There will always be work that needs to be completed without the help of automation. Ideally, if you’re able to successfully automate all your recurring, mundane tasks, you’ll have more time to focus on items that require your individual attention.

Let’s look at what shouldn’t be automated: 

  • Customer support. You need team members to deal with customer-facing tasks and issues. Human interaction is key for building trust, which is needed in these situations. You can automate assigning or closing out customer-related tickets, but dealing with the actual issue must be done by a human.
  • Training new team members. Onboarding a new team member requires both critical thinking and, to an extent, emotional investment. Filling out paperwork and watching training videos is one thing, but sitting down and ensuring they understand what they need to complete their job is an investment.
  • Cyber security. Keeping your company protected from third-party cyber attacks is crucial. There’s always the possibility for tools or software to become compromised. It’s critical that you have staff running their own checks to ensure everything is alright.
  • Deploying new updates to production servers. I can’t imagine pushing a deploy to a production server and just assuming everything is fine; that is nightmare fuel. Parts of this process might be automated, but there should always be post-deploy checks to ensure everything is as expected.
  • Quality assurance. QA should rarely be automated. This process requires checking for errors human users might stumble upon, so it requires human thinking. 
  • Closing sales deals. There are many tasks that sales teams can automate, but sales calls with leads, and conducting final conversations to close out deals, needs to be done by a team member. If you rely on just sending an email and hoping for the best, you’re going to miss your sales targets.

As a rule of thumb, anything that has an urgent deadline, requires critical thinking, emotional intelligence, or the input from multiple team members should not be automated. 

How to choose the right task automation software

There are countless options for task automation software, so picking the right one for your needs may seem overwhelming. Lucky for you, we’re here to help make this process less stressful.

First, you need to identify what types of tasks you’ll be automating so you can narrow down the appropriate type of tool. Task automation software typically falls into two main categories: 

  1. Robotic process automation (RPA): These tools copy human actions that are repetitive, frequent, and have standard outcomes, such as data entry or scheduling recurring meetings.
  2. Business process automation (BPA): These tools are used to automate workflows and can be more complex. They often integrate actions across teams and systems. 

Once you know what type of tool you need, you can start researching options. Different automation tools will benefit different companies. There isn’t a specific recommendation that works for everyone.

When looking at your options, consider the following: 

  • Price. Is it a one-time fee, or a recurring monthly fee? 
  • Number of users. Do you have to pay for additional team members to use the tool?
  • Integrations. What other programs or tools will the task automation software work with? Are there any it’s not compatible with? 
  • Support. If you run into issues, is it easy to contact customer support, or do you have to debug things yourself?
  • Reviews. What are other people saying about the tool? Do they like how it works; has it helped streamlined their business? Or are people leaving negative comments and voicing concerns?
  • Feedback from your team. If you’re looking for a solution to help your team automate tasks, collect feedback from them directly. Don’t make a final choice based on assumptions – if you’re not part of the day-to-day work, you won’t know what they truly need.

If you can, sign up for a free trial to test a task automation tool before paying for a subscription. If everything works out, you’ve found your solution! If not, do some more research until you find a good fit.

Step-by-step guide for automating tasks

Now that you know more about task automation, you’re ready to get started! You can follow these four simple steps to set yourself, and your team, up for success. 

  1. Identify tasks to automate. Remember, you want to automate simple, repetitive tasks that occur frequently to free up time and resources. If something is high-priority or requires teamwork or critical thinking, it shouldn’t be automated.
  2. Find an appropriate automation tool. Research your options and collect feedback from your team on what would best serve their needs. Ask what gaps need to be filled and find a tool that will effectively assist in getting work done.
  3. Set things up and optimize your workflows. After you purchase a task automation tool, take the time to set everything up thoroughly. Communicate with your team so everyone knows what’s happening, what the expectations are, and what the tool will take care of versus what’s still expected of everyone else. Sync actions with other tools and software you’re using so people get appropriate updates and can track actions related to their work.
  4. Adjust as needed. Review and adjust your automations on a regular basis. If your team has new goals or KPIs to work towards, adjust your automation to better reflect your needs. Business changes can happen quickly, so be ready to pivot.

Remember: task automation is an invaluable tool, and one you should always be utilizing to its full extent. You have goals to achieve and shouldn’t be wasting time on the same boring tasks day in and day out. Automation is our friend, and your workflows will be better with it!